David Cameron has challenged Labour to help his party draw up legislation to give 'independence' to the NHS.
In a speech to the King's Fund on Monday, the Conservative leader said an NHS Independence Bill would 'offer a statutory framework that will take politicians out of the day-to-day running of the NHS'.
Mr Cameron said he wanted to work with Tony Blair and his likely successor Gordon Brown on his party's ideas, which include the establishment of an independent board to run the NHS and the handing of tariff-setting powers to Monitor.
On the same day the party published an interim policy document on health, which puts forward controversial ideas such as widening the concept of choice to enable patients to choose their commissioners as well as their providers.
Mr Cameron said: 'Our plan is to publish a bill in the new year, and we hope that the government will work with us on the details and help produce a bill that commands support on all sides of the House of Commons.
'If implemented by spring 2008, it would give the NHS the best possible 60th birthday present. My message to the government is clear: the NHS matters too much to be treated like a political football.'
The bill will include three elements:
An independent board charged with responsibility for allocation of resources, the commissioning of services, and ensuring equality of access and improving care.
An independent regulatory framework consisting of a 'quality inspectorate', based on the Healthcare Commission, and an 'economic regulator', based on Monitor, which would license providers, ensure availability of provision, set the tariff, promote competition, safeguard financial propriety and incentivise efficiency and quality.
A new national patient body able to intervene through the regulator where services are failing, and influence commissioners and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Council overview and scrutiny committees will be given a beefed-up role in service planning.
Mr Cameron said his party wanted to 'move away from the idea that government's role is to micromanage the delivery of healthcare in Britain' and move towards greater professional responsibility for those who work in the NHS.
And he added that he wanted to bring about 'fair funding'. 'We will end political meddling over money - removing the scope for fiddling by distributing resources for reasons of political expedience rather than clinical need,' he said.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley criticised the government for not having published its long-promised failure regime for foundation trusts in the era of choice. He said that if the government did not act, the Conservatives would publish a regime as part of the NHS Independence Bill.
The interim policy document, drawn up by former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, calls for a strengthened chief medical officer's department supported by a network of regional medical officers.
Rather than having to abide by targets, primary care trusts would be accountable to local standards, drawn up by clinicians and managers. Ministers would set nationwide health outcomes objectives to help eliminate the 'postcode lottery'.
One of the more radical proposals in the interim policy document is for competitive commissioning.
Parts of the commissioning responsibility of PCTs could be subcontracted to 'alternative commissioners' representing the interests of a geographical area or patients with a particular clinical condition. The alternative commissioners would include NHS managers, clinical networks, and representatives from local authorities and the private and voluntary sectors.
Patients would then be able to choose their own commissioner.
Mr Lansley said his party would publish the final version of the bill in January, and the completed health policy should be ready by next June.